Mini Hoop House Project
Do you have one hour to spare? Has spring fever hit? This simple project was the cure for me: setting up a mini hoop house in the garden to start early spring vegetables. Although it is still nearly six weeks until our last frost date here in northeast Ohio, I already have vegetable plants growing…outside!
The secrets to starting an early spring garden are:
- choose cool weather crops that can tolerate light frosts
- raised beds
- planting under cover
Cool Weather Crops
Many garden favorites, such as tomatoes, peppers and zucchini cannot be planted outside until after the danger of frost has passed (around May 20 here). Other vegetables can be planted much sooner, as they tolerate frosts, and even thrive in the cool spring temperatures and limited, but lengthening, daylight hours.
Some vegetables that can be directly seeded outside in early spring:
- bok choi
- green onions/scallions
These cool weather crops can usually be started as soon as the soil is ‘workable’. Workable soil is thawed and dried out (when a handful of soil is compressed into a ball in your hand, it crumbles apart when released. If it stays stuck in a ball, it is not ready yet). With our clay soil, the soil will be too wet for several more weeks, even with the ground thawed. The solution: a raised bed.
My gardens are primarily laid out in rows, raised slightly by shoveling paths between them. However, for just this purpose…early plantings, I have one 4′ x 8′ raised bed sided with 2″ x 8″ pressure treated wood. This raised bed was been filled with garden soil and is annually amended with compost.
The deep and friable soil in this raised bed is perfect for growing root crops such as carrots, beets and onions. And, another benefit of the raised bed is that the soil dries out, becoming workable, much sooner than the ground level rows, due to its ability to drain into the surrounding lower areas.
Planting Under Cover
The addition this spring of hoops and a plastic cover are what allowed me to successfully start seeds in March. Constructing this simple mini hoop house over the existing bed and planting it with cool season crops was completed in just under one hour on a a nice sunny day.
- Lengths of 1/2″ PVC pipe (approximately twice as long as the bed is wide)
- 6mm plastic
- Snap clamps
- 18″ lengths of rebar (optional)
- Determine the length of PVC pipe needed. Each hoop should be twice the width of the bed, and hoops should be placed about every 2 feet.
- Cut the PVC pipe to the appropriate length.
- Drive rebar into garden bed on both sides at location of each hoop, if desired.
- Place PVC onto rebar, or just insert the PVC hoops deep into the soil.
- Cover the hoops with 6mm plastic.
- Attach the plastic to the PVC with 1/2″ snap clamps, three clamps per hoop, spaced evenly.
- Secure edges of the plastic with bricks, extra rebar, or other heavy objects.
- Add a layer of compost and other amendments as needed.
- Make shallow planting furrows. Seeds for early spring plantings should not be planted too deeply.
- Place seeds according to seed packet instructions.
- Cover lightly with a seed starting mix.
- Gently tamp down over the seed rows.
- Water thoroughly, then securely cover the hoops with plastic.
This type of quick, simple hoop house can be constructed directly on the ground, as well, rather than on a raised bed. Our mini hoop house has been in place for two weeks now and has withstood several inches of snow, temperatures as low as 25 degrees, and very strong winds. I peeked inside today:
While the weeds have grown the most, there are vegetable seedlings in there! The radishes, arugula and braising mix are all up and looking great. Hopefully, with some sunshine and temperatures in the 40’s this week, we will see the other seedlings make an appearance soon.
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